Stereotypical Characters with a Twist

            Picture the butler who answers the door. What is he wearing? What does he say and do? We probably all have the same image: he’s an older gentleman with a British accent dressed in a tux with tails. He instructs the visitor to go into the drawing room, and then heads off to summon his master.

            In mysteries the butler is often the top suspect in a murder. Despite the reserved image he portrays, underneath that calm lays an angry, vengeful man.

These are stereotypical characters because they are flat people that fill out the cast. They generally appear in quick bursts then drop into the background. Throughout the telling, these characters exhibit little or no growth and have limited impact on the story arc.

            Now picture the lowly farm boy toiling in the heat of the afternoon dredging soiled hay from the horses’ stalls. What is he wearing? What does he say and do?

            What if the butler gets fired and has to become the lowly farm boy? What if the farm boy is actually the son of a prince in a faraway land? Because the farm boy and the butler experience life-changing events, their impact on the story has gone from being minimal to critical.

            Your task is to write a scene in which what first appears to be a stereotypical, flat character and offer a twist in the plot that belies what the reader thinks to be true. You can use the characters mentioned or introduce a different one. For example, what if the wise old woman lacks skills to be a mentor or the orphan who is thought to be the descendant of royalty really is just a street kid?

            Have fun with this one.

Life’s Journey

            Characters are a product of their life’s experiences. The things they seen and done are major influencers in who they are at the time of the story. From birth, the people in their lives affect what they believe, what foods they eat, the clothing they wear, the attitude to education that they have.

            Imagine a character who grows up in a loving, fostering home. His attitude toward obstacles life presents will be completely different from obstacles that pop up in the life of someone who was abused in some way. It makes sense. In the first situation the character might love challenges and new experiences while the second individual might be fearful and prefer hiding at home.

            When you create a character you need to construct their life’s journey as a background into who they have become. This is different from a character arc. The arc traces the character’s trajectory throughout the story, encapsulating the events that change her as the story progresses.

            The life’s journey shows the path that she walked as the years passed by.

            Your task is to create a life’s journey for a new character that you would like to include in a story. Graph paper might be the best source as it allows for increments of time spaced out in measured blocks. Start at a point when they first event occurred. This could be birth or the first day of school. Add elements that played important parts, both negative and positive.

            When finished, using the data you’ve detailed, write a memoir-like story of his life.

            Have fun with this one.

Music Preferences

            Music wasn’t always an important part of my life. I don’t remember singing childhood ditties or making up my own songs as I played with dolls. My parents never sang to me and when we did listen to a radio, it was usually tuned to melodramas. We did sing in church, but because I was slow to learn to read, I couldn’t join in.

            I bought myself a tiny transistor radio when I was twelve. My favorite station played pop music, comfy singalong tunes with catchy beats. I subscribed to a magazine that printed the lyrics to every popular song. That became my bible. Whenever I was alone in my room, I turned on the radio and sang along. My love of music carried me through my tumultuous teens, twenties and all the ensuing years until my current ripe old age.

            How has music impacted your life? Has it played a minor or major role?

            Your task is to write a story in which music affects the protagonist, either in a positive or negative way. What age is she? Where does she live (city, state, country). What is her family situation (socioeconomic, single-parent, half-siblings). What are her favorite subjects in school (think about all the different grades, from Pre-Kindergarten to university).

            Does she share her love of music or keep it to herself? Does she sing in the shower or on stage? In a church choir or with a band? If band, what type and do they tour? All these considerations affect story.

            Have fun with this one.

Giving Back

It’s easy to accept favors and gifts. We love opening packages or having a special meal prepared in our honor. On our birthday we enjoy the cake and the singing of family and friends, all done in our honor.

However, how often do we give to others? Perhaps we hand over a house-warming bottle of good wine or a carefully wrapped gift for a baby shower. Maybe we mow the neighbor’s lawn when she’s broken her hip and can’t do it herself.

Considering how many worthy causes there are and how many financially-strapped families, what have we done to improve the lives of others?

Your task is to write a story in which a gift of some kind is freely given, not expectations of reward expected. Your character sees a need then organizes a fund raiser to fulfill it. Such generosity doesn’t come easy. Friends might scoff. Neighbors might complain. Helpers might fail to appear. Government entities might not give permission.

Remember the tension makes the story interesting, so give your character obstacles to overcome. Or not. People your story with helpers and detractors.

At the end the question must be answered: is she successful or not? Why? What makes things go right? What devilish things make it go wrong?

Have fun with this one.

Reality Show Mishap

If you’ve ever watched one of the many reality shows on television, you know that despite careful planning not everything runs smoothly. Participants might use words that have to be deleted. They might remove sufficient articles of clothing that the censors would shut down the show.

While you might not have ever appeared as a contestant on a reality show, events in your life might have emitted the same feelings that contestants experience. When you were in elementary school did your teacher hold spelling bees? Did you audition for a play or for a chair in an orchestra? Was there a time when you submitted an application for a competitive position in a company?

All of these scenarios could become fodder for a story.

Your task is to write a story in which your character participates in some type of reality show type of competition. Begin by setting the scene. Does your character apply through a written format or by submitting a video? How does she react when she is accepted?

Does the show take place in a studio or on a remote island? Does it involve stunts that could cause harm or is it an intellectual pursuit?

As the story develops some type of tragedy takes place. It could be a broken hell or a shattered bone, but the most important thing is that it alters, in some profound way, the subsequent events in the story.

Have fun  with this one.

 

If the World was Ending

Close your eyes and picture the people you love the most. What makes them special to you? Is it their smiles or the fact that they love you back? Perhaps it’s their ability to forgive and forget. Maybe they’re sense of humor lifts your spirits or it’s because they listen even when you aren’t looking for answers.

We live in perilous times. Fires rage, hurricanes and tornadoes wipe out huge swaths of land. Floods destroy urban and rural property. It gets too hot and too cold, depending upon where you live. There are shootings, hostage-taking, kidnapping and car-jacking. You just have to be in the right place at the wrong time to find yourself in the midst of a life-changing event.

Your task is to write a story in which the known world is ending. Begin by identifying the how, where and why. Perhaps a little research is needed to reinforce your knowledge of how these events impact life.

Come up with at least two characters to populate your story. They could be a couple of good friends. Casual acquaintances or total strangers. They could even be enemies.

Begin with establishing the known world through development of a strong setting and instances where readers will become aware of the depth of the primary relationships.

Add in a healthy enough does of dialogue buffeted by narrative to enable readers to use their senses to witness the frightening event.

Have fun with this one.

Coincidences

Sometimes a series of unrelated things seem to happen at the same time, creating a situation that is both unexpected and mysterious. Often these events bring joy but they can also trigger unhappiness.

For example, let’s say that while on vacation in New Zealand you happen to run into a friend from high school that was unaware of you going there. You might say, “What a coincidence,” followed by shared laughter.

Perhaps you carried a load to laundry to the garage. The washing machine doesn’t get all the water out of the clothes and the dryer isn’t working properly either. Again you would declare that a coincidence.

Your task is to write a story in which a coincidence plays a major role in the plot. First barnstorm a list of possible occurrences that could be linked together. Then figure out a way to write them into a plausible story. You can choose fantasy or realistic fiction. Or, if you prefer, you can share with readers things that happened in your life.

Make the story interesting by including details that add a sense of humor, such as dialogue combined with narrative. You can play with setting as well by placing the event in an unusual location.

Have fun with this one.

Magical Beings

Think about a fantasy story that intrigued you. The images that come to mind will encompass the elements of the world itself (the setting), the characters and their quests (heroes and antagonists) and the magical beings that either help or hinder the success of the quest.

While not all fantasy includes faeries and other such creatures, many do, especially those for younger readers. Belief in alternate realities inspires many children to explore different types of stories.

If you intend to write fantasy, one factor that you need to consider is how to populate your world. Will there only be humans in conflict with other humans as they attempt to find or steal some type of object (such as the Holy Grail)? Or will orcs, wargs, ogres, wizards, trolls and other magical beings participate in the telling? If so, how will they enrich the story?

Your task is to write a story in which at least one type of being plays a major role. First do some research to discover the known options. If none of them appeal to you, create your own by beginning with its physical appearance and then by bestowing a combination of uses and powers.

How will the presence of this being influence the story? Will it be friend or foe to your protagonist? In what ways will it affect the telling? It can either move the action forward or slow it down by presenting obstacles for your character.

Have fun with this one.

Long Lost Friend

Do you remember what it felt like when a friend that you hadn’t seen in a log time crossed your path? Did you experience joy or dread? Did seeing her call up fond memories of places you’d gone and things you’d seen? Maybe she tormented you, called you names, and so you fear that she’ll start it up again?

We’ve all experienced the appearance of someone from our past, so this is a story that all readers can relate to. Begin with the characters. Who are they and what happened in their past that perhaps they preferred to keep buried?

Now imagine a story in which a character runs across someone from the past.

Your task is to tell that story. Complexity is crucial for readers need to feel those conflicting emotions.

Begin with the setting.  The place and time ground readers in the story. Expand to include emotional reactions as you explore how the characters feel and react. Use dialogue to draw readers into the relationship.

Have fun with this one.

 

Speed Dating

Imagine wanting to find the love of your life but you don’t want to hang out in smoke-filled bars with a bunch of drunks. Online sites make you a bit nervous as there is no way to know if the person really looks like their picture, lives where they say they do or have a functional life with gainful employment.

While reading the paper one morning an ad appears for an event to be held at a local community center. You’ve never tried speed dating before, but it sounds like fun.

The problem is that all kinds of things could go wrong. The range of concerns is endless.

Your task is to write a story in which a lonely person goes to a speed dating event. Consider the setting, tone and voice. Point of View is critical for readers want to experience the situation through their senses. Something humorous might appear, something a bit dangerous, or there might be true love.

Have fun with this one.